NASA's Latest Technique Finds Lost Spacecraft In The Lunar Orbit

Janie Parker
March 11, 2017

Chandrayaan-1, which was launched on October 22, 2008, by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), got lost in space on August 29, 2009, after the power system on the spacecraft failed, ending all communication between ground station and the spacecraft. "However, a new technological application of interplanetary radar pioneered by scientists at NASA's JPL can do so,". While such radar techniques are used to observe small asteroids several million kilometres from Earth, the scientists were not certain whether an object as small as Chandrayaan-1 near the Moon could be detected.

While the first one is still in running condition and is mapping moon by regularly orbiting it, the latter was lost in 2009. The agency has now done it again, locating an Indian spacecraft that lost contact with the Earth almost eight years ago.

INDIA'S MAIDEN moon mission spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 has been found in deep space by a powerful earth-based interplanetary radar deployed by researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, over seven years after all communication with the spacecraft was lost. They have also located NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which too is around the Moon.

More troubling was that the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is very small, about half the size of a smart auto, and about 380,000 kilometers away.

On July 2, 2016, the team pointed Goldstone and Green Bank at a location 160km above the moon's north pole and waited to see if the Chandrayaan-1 crossed the radar beam. The Indian lunar spacecraft was more or less where NASA scientists expected it to be. Moreover, it is even harder to detect such object in the orbit of the Moon because optical telescopes are not accurate enough to spot small objects which float around in the bright light of the moon. Finding LRO was less of a challenge and more of a proof of concept; it's an active spacecraft, so precise location data from the mission's navigators guided the search, detection team members said.

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The second spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, went silent in 2009 and though the specifications of its orbit were well known, finding it was another matter.

DSS-14 - NASA's 70-meter antenna which found Chandyaan-1.

The first lunar spacecraft launched by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), the Chandrayaan-1, which was earlier considered lost, has now been found by the American space agency NASA. The orbiter was inserted into lunar orbit on 8 November 2008 and was expected to remain operational until at least 2010.

Radar echoes bounced back from lunar orbit were received by the 100-meter Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The spacecraft's instrument readings yielded signatures of water molecules on the moon.

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